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The Comforter

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Four summers ago, I made a memory I wish I could forget. It’s the kind of memory that makes me cringe every time I recall it. I try to push it out of my brain as quickly as I can. When I do think on it, I am filled with regret.

I worked at a local hospital as a chaplain. I was interning there as part of my seminary education, and the work was emotionally grueling. After a few days of training I was thrown into the deep end to either sink or swim. I counseled pregnant teenagers, and comforted families through the illness of a loved one. I rushed to the ER when a trauma arrived and contacted the victim’s family. I sat with them and offered prayer after the doctor informed them of their loss. It was rewarding work, but it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

It was also the occasion for one of my greatest regrets.

During my last night at the hospital a particularly urgent trauma came in. A 28-year-old had been driving under the influence, swerved from the road, was ejected from the vehicle, and landed on his head. When he arrived at the hospital he was still alive, but he did not live long. I soon found myself in the position of calling his grandparents to come to the hospital.

As chaplains, we weren’t permitted to give any medical information to families. We couldn’t even tell the family if the patient was dead or alive — that was the doctor’s job. Of course, whenever a family arrived, that was all they kept asking, “Are they OK? Are they OK!?” But I couldn’t let on what I knew.

On this particular night, I couldn’t find the doctor anywhere and the family kept waiting, repeatedly asking me what had happened to their grandson. I became increasingly flustered as the weight of the news bore down on me. Eventually the grandmother stopped me, looked me square in the eye and said, “He’s dead, isn’t he?”

I looked back at her for a moment, faltered under the pressure of the moment, and grinned. I smiled at her the way one does when they’re uncomfortable, and then light-heartedly replied, “Just sit here for a minute and I will try to find the doctor.”

I smiled.

It haunts me to this day. Why did I smile? Why did I respond so inappropriately when I had information that would shortly devastate her?

Describing the situation now, it may not seem that significant, and it was the very least of the family’s concerns. But there is something about my response that, to this day, feels horribly wrong. It was the wrong thing to do. I acted like I was in a hair salon apologizing for the wait, not a hospital emergency room about to impart the worst news of their lives. To smile in that moment was immature and terribly insensitive. Whenever I think about it, I wish I could take it back, take back that entire interaction, and respond the way I should have. Not as the sheltered, inexperienced 24-year-old that I was.

Why is it so difficult to say the right thing in times of tragedy? Why is it so hard to provide the comfort I long to share? Instead of providing comfort, why do I find myself filling the silence with awkward, empty-feeling words?

I suspect it is because of my sheer helplessness. In the face of suffering it is natural to want to help, but as a human there is little I can do to offer comfort amidst tragedy. I can make a casserole or provide a shoulder to cry on, but I can’t make the pain go away. I can’t fix the situation. I don’t have that kind of power, and I’m not comfortable with that fact. So I squirm, say the wrong thing, and smile when I shouldn’t.

Which brings me back to that night in the hospital. What was I even doing there? I couldn’t heal that couple’s grandson. I didn’t even respond the way I should have. What good could have come of my presence there? And more importantly, what convinced my supervisors to unleash young, naïve seminarians into situations they couldn’t possibly be equipped to handle?

As I have reflected on this experience, and our human limitations, I think I have finally settled on an answer. My supervisors released me into that hospital because they had great faith, not in my own capacity to offer counsel, but in God’s.

In John 14:16 and again in verse 26, Jesus promises to send a great Comforter, the Holy Spirit, after He is gone. This Comforter will “teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” However the most astounding words of Jesus come two chapters later in John 16:7: “But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor [the Holy Spirit] will not come to you.”

In other words, it is be better to have the Holy Spirit than to have Jesus standing next to us in the flesh and blood. Isn’t that remarkable? How often I have thought, “If only I could just ask Jesus in person what I should do or say!” But Jesus contradicts this kind of thinking, teaching that I already have all I need, inside of me.

As a human, I can’t offer much comfort in tragedy. As a Christian, I can. Not because I have special wisdom or ability that regular humans do not have, but because of the Holy Spirit working through me. That is why it is better to have the Holy Spirit than to have Jesus standing beside us. When Jesus left the disciples, He did not take His ministry with Him. His work continues on, but we are now blessed to participate in it.

So what does that teach me about comforting a friend who has miscarried her child, or my mom as she grieves the loss of her father? It teaches me that as a human who is limited by experience and knowledge, I can offer little, but the Holy Spirit can offer much. Knowing this, I can comfort others best when I become small so that God can become big. I need to get out of the way to let the Divine Comforter work, and I can do this in three ways.

Pray. This is the greatest outlet for my feelings of helplessness. I feel most effective as a comforter when I am storming the gates of Heaven with my prayers. And when it comes to prayer I do not want to make empty promises. If I tell a hurting friend or loved one that I will pray for them, I do it. I also remind them later through an e-mail or card that they have been prayed for.

Look to the Psalms of Lament. When a friend is overwhelmed by sorrow, I try to point them towards the immovable truths of Scripture. However, I am also careful about what Scripture I choose, because the obvious choices are not always the best. Upbeat verses about God’s goodness can ring hollow in mourning, but the Psalms of Lament give voice to our deepest groans of despair. They also give Christians permission to cry out to God in anger without the concern that they are being less faithful. The Psalms not only permit Christians to shake their fist at God, but they offer a gentle guidance back towards the One in whom they can take refuge. (Examples of these Psalms include Psalms 44, 60, 74, 88, and 142.)

Be still. In times of comforting, I am too often quick to speak. I have a tendency to fill the silence with as much “advice” as I can squeeze out of my lungs. Over time, however, I am learning to be comfortable with silence and simply be still with those who are suffering. By resisting the urge to talk, I make room for the Holy Spirit to speak instead. By simply sitting next to a friend and saying nothing, the Holy Spirit has used my very presence as a comfort. Stillness makes space for grief, yet reminds the grieving that they are not alone.

In 2 Corinthians 12:10, Paul confesses that when he is weak he is strong. This verse summarizes what it is to be a comforter. It also offers an insightful response to my feelings of helpfulness. Ultimately, comforting is about making myself into the most effective vehicle for the work of the Spirit that I can be. When those feelings of helplessness creep in, I stand confident in the knowledge that it isn’t about me at all. My grieving friends and family don’t need me or my wise counsel — they need Jesus. As a vessel of the Holy Spirit, I need only hide behind the Divine Comforter and watch Him move.

Article photo copyright © 2010 Kelly Sauer. Used with permission.

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Sharon Hodde Miller loves to write, loves women's ministry, and especially loves combining the two! After majoring in Religion at Duke University, she worked for Proverbs 31 Ministries where she learned the ropes of women's ministry. Following her time there, she returned to Duke where she not only earned a Master of Divinity, but snatched up a smokin' smart husband in the process! She and her husband now live in the Chicago area -- with their new son -- where they are both pursuing their Ph.D.'s at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Sharon has a particular passion for discipling women with Scripture and theology, which is the heart behind her blog, She Worships. In addition to Ungrind, she also contributes regularly to Her.meneutics and CultivateHer.com.

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When Doing Justly, Loving Mercy, and Walking Humbly Stand at Odds

If your compassion far exceeds your capacity, here’s one way you can be sure to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.

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One of my life verses is Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

It is one of my favorite verses because my heart has been so moved by the love Jesus has for me and the sacrifice He made for me that I am grateful to have a way to express my gratitude through acts of justice and mercy while walking humbly with God.

I have found at times, however, the call to do justice and love mercy come in conflict with the call to walk humbly with God. For me, one of the ways to walk humbly with God is to recognize my limitations. I have to put skin to the fact that I am not God which means saying, “no” to ministry requests. It means going to sleep when I could be spending time advocating for the harrowed and helpless in the world. It means limited seats at my table, limited funds in my bank account, and limited energy in my body cannot be ignored but respected and adhered to.

This is hard for me at times, especially when I scroll my Facebook feed and see friends who are caring for their really sick children, spouse, or other family member all while millions of refugees flee war torn countries and babies are slaughtered by the hundreds each day in our country through the abortion industry.

As I scroll, I receive texts about one family member’s surgery gone wrong and another family member announcing a new baby is on the way. I have in mind my neighbor who has inpatient surgery scheduled this week and another neighbor who is trying to hold down a full-time job, care for twins all while battling profound “morning” sickness.

Folks at church are fighting for their lives in physical and spiritual ways, and strangers who pass me on the road are clearly battling something as demonstrated by their impatient honking because I won’t take a right turn on red. I want to meet the needs of all; I want to do justice and love mercy, but I’m daily confronted by the fact that I am so limited.

What am I to do when doing justly and/or loving mercy seem to come in conflict with walking humbly with my God?

God keeps bringing me to this answer: prayer.

God invites us to cast our cares before Him because He cares for us.
God tells us to be anxious for nothing BUT WITH PRAYER present our requests before Him.
God commands us to pray without ceasing.

And, when I walk humbly with God, I see the immense kindness in His command.
He gives us a way to do justly, love mercy WHILE walking humbly with Him.
It is by praying without ceasing.

I cannot take a meal or give money to every sick person or family I know. I cannot extend kindness to all my neighbors all at the same time they’re in need nor conjure up sustainable solutions for the refugee crisis and contact all the necessary world powers to make it happen.

I cannot heal all, but I know the Healer.

I cannot provide for all the needs, but I know the Provider.

I cannot rescue everyone in need, but I know the Rescuer.

I cannot comfort all the broken, but I know the Comforter.

I cannot speak peace over every situation, but I know the Prince of Peace.

I cannot be all to all, but I can go to the Great I Am through prayer, lay all the people, problems and pleas for help before the Omniscient and Omnipresent God of all Creation.

I can do this through prayer.

Recently, via an Instagram contest of all things, I came upon A–Z prayer cards designed by blogger/author/speaker, Amelia Rhodes. It is a simple concept packed with a powerful prayer punch. It has served me personally in this tension of wanting to do far more than I practically can do. It provides prayer prompts starting with each letter of the alphabet along with a scripture that coincides with the prayer focus. It ranges from Adoption to a creative “Zero Prejudice” for the letter “Z.”

The cards are well thought out, color printed on sturdy cardstock with blank lines for the user to write in the names of people and/or organizations that are personal to them.

If, like me, your compassion far exceeds your capacity, pick up a set of these prayer cards and unload your burdens onto a God whose competence matches His kindness, both boundless.

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Facing Our Fears in Motherhood

Do you have fears tied to motherhood? If so, here’s encouragement for you.

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“Are you scared?”

I was taken aback by his question. Scared? Of what?

“Of anything,” he answered.

I had just shared my due date with a new class of trainees.

“He has three boys,” another new hire volunteered. So fear is to be expected, I reasoned. I’m just about to face the most frightening experience in my life.

Of course I was scared.

I was scared…

  • I’ll lose my temper.
  • I’ll whine about sleepless nights.
  • I’ll breastfeed too often or not often enough.
  • I’ll leave piles of unfolded onesies in the middle of the nursery floor because I’m too tired (or lazy?) to fold teeny-tiny baby clothes for the upteenth time.
  • I’ll go with disposable diapers when the better choice would be cloth.
  • I’ll work too many long hours at the office and miss precious moments with her.
  • I’ll sign her up for too many activities and push her to become Miss Achieve-It-All.
  • I’ll pass on to her my ugly pride, self-righteousness, and perfectionism like a dreadful contagious disease.
  • I’ll miss countless little joys in life while pursuing worthless dreams.

Facing Our Fears in MotherhoodIn short… I was afraid I was going to fail miserably as a parent.

And now, holding my second-born daughter in my arms, thinking back on that brief exchange just a few years ago, I realize those fears were well-founded. I’ve failed many times. I’ve lost my temper. I’ve raised my voice. I’ve worked too much and played too little. I’ve seen my own sinfulness reflected in my daughter.

Yes, I’ve failed, but over and above it all, God’s grace has covered my parenting imperfections and made me run to the cross day after day. The writer of Proverbs puts it this way:

Whoever fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge.
Proverbs 14:26

When it comes to fears, we have two choices: Will we fear the unknown or will we fear the Lord? Will we allow the uncertain to grip us in its clutch or will we turn to God’s Truth to set us free?

Scared? Oh yeah. There was so much to be scared of that day. And even now, if I’m completely honest, there are still fears nibbling at the edges of my consciousness. Fear that we won’t outgrow the temper tantrums. Fear that the two girls won’t get along. Fear that I’ll mess them up and cause them interminable hours on a psychologist’s couch.

I’m sure you have fears, too.

But rather than allow those fears to consume and paralyze us, we can take them to the Lord, acknowledging His sovereignty over our parenting, pleading His grace over our mistakes, and entrusting His provision over their futures. He is not only able to handle it all — He is far more capable to be trusted with it all.

If I say one thing to that frightened 9-month-pregnant me standing in that room years ago, I would say this: Don’t let fear rob today’s joy with tomorrow’s unknowns. Each day has enough worries of its own (Matthew 6:34).

Instead, let us keep seeking God, running to Him as our secure fortress and resting in the knowledge that He will care for us and our children one day at a time.

What are you scared of today? Name your fears and bring them to the Lord, allowing Him to replace them with His peace that passes all understanding.

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He Gives Shade To The Weary

If anxiety is a struggle for you right now, remember that He gives shade to the weary.

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Do you ever have those moments of fear because you don’t know what lies ahead? When do those thoughts tend to happen to you?

For me, most of those thoughts happen when I lay my head down to sleep at night. The vulnerability comes forth every time. That’s what happened the other night to me. I shut my eyes and immediately anxiety welled up inside me.

What if we don’t succeed in this new venture? What if we have to move? What if we can’t pay our bills?

I laid there with the covers drawn tight over my head (I still think that I am safer if the covers are over my head), praying scripture over my anxious heart. Assuring myself that God sees me and that He cares.

In the morning, I turned to Isaiah 41, specifically verses 10-20.

“Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10, NASB)

Yesterday, the “what if’s” piled up as I anxiously looked about me. My daughter needs tutoring, however at this point in life, tutoring feels like a luxury we can’t afford. So I listed some items online to sell hoping to make just enough to cover the tutoring. I’m buying groceries on a Visa reward card. I’m holding my breath until the next paycheck comes. But what did God speak over me: Do not fear. Do not look anxiously about you.

“For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand, Who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’ Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel; I will help you,” declares the Lord, “and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:13-14 NASB)

Why shouldn’t I be anxious? Because God will hold me up. God will help me. When I first read the word “worm” as a description, I took it as a slam against Israel. Like, gesh, God. What animal does He relate me to? But through further study, He calls them a worm because worms are helpless. They are viewed as insignificant, despised and weak. God will help me — seemingly insignificant, helpless me — because He is my Redeemer. He is my go’el — my next of kin. The Redeemer is the one who provides for all my needs. Rent. Car payment. Credit card bill. Gas. Food. Clothes. Debt. God will redeem.

He Gives Shade to the Weary

“Behold, I have made you a new, sharp threshing sledge with double edges; You will thresh the mountains and pulverize them, And will make the hills like chaff. You will winnow them, and the wind will carry them away, And the storm will scatter them; But you will rejoice in the Lord, You will glory in the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:15-16 NASB).

God is transforming me from a helpless one to a powerful one. The description of that type of threshing sledge is like a modern day earth mover. Powerful. Strong. Immovable.

“The afflicted and needy are seeking water, but there is none, And their tongue is parched with thirst; I, the Lord, will answer them Myself, As the God of Israel I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 41:17, NASB)

He will come to our rescue. God, Himself, will answer you and me. Can you hear how personal that sounds? Have you ever pleaded with someone important whether your boss, public figure, or even a parent, and they responded to the need themselves? You expected for them to send their assistant, but instead they — the most important one — responded to you.

“I will open rivers on the bare heights And springs in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water And the dry land fountains of water. I will put the cedar in the wilderness, The acacia and the myrtle and the olive tree; I will place the juniper in the desert Together with the box tree and the cypress.” (Isaiah 41:18-19, NASB)

This passage describes the wilderness-like times in life. You are barren. You are thirsty. You are hot. You are in need. God will provide what you need. God will quench your thirst. He will provide shade when you are weary. During those times, God can provide in creative, innovative ways. He can provide something out of nothing. Doesn’t that give you great hope? Even when you can’t answer how He will do it, He is creative enough to figure it out even when the odds are stacked against you.

“That they may see and recognize, And consider and gain insight as well, That the hand of the Lord has done this, And the Holy One of Israel has created it.” (Isaiah 41:20 NASB).

God will do all of this so that His glory will be put on display. People — including yourself — will see that He is powerful.

So you can see how after a night of wrestling with fear and anxiety, reading this was like shade and water for my soul. God is a god who sees. And God is a god who acts on your behalf.

What do you need His help with today? What are you fearful about today? What keeps you awake at night? Where do you need some shade?

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Hi, I'm Ashleigh Slater, founder and editor of Ungrind. Here at Ungrind, it’s our goal to churn out biblically-based encouragement for women. We strive to be honest and transparent about our struggles in a way that inspires hope, faith, and perseverance.

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The Comforter

by Sharon Hodde Miller time to read: 6 min
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